Hindrance or Legit?

There are many actions taken during a tennis match that are borderline between an actual Hindrance and legitimate play.  Here are a few with MY opinions on the legality (confirmed by a USTA official) …

  • Jumping at the net – Playing doubles, the server’s net man is jumping around BEFORE his partner ever served.  When asked about it, he said, “doing it to distract the returner.”
    Hindrance or Legit? If he did it as/after his partner served as a fake poach, it would be fine; but doing it just to “distract the returner” makes it a hindrance.
  • Standing on return of serve – You are returning serve (either singles or doubles) and you stand way back, way in or way off to one side; and then you either stay where you are or move back to a “normal” position.
    Hindrance or Legit? The returner can stand wherever he wishes.  Legit.
  • Rockin’ and Rollin’ – You are the doubles returner’s partner and on an important second serve, you move right up to the edge of the service box and move by rocking back and forth.
    Hindrance or Legit? If you just moved close to the box to intimidate the server, that would be fine; but by intentionally moving around, you create a Hindrance.
  • Calling “Out” – Playing doubles, a high ball is coming towards your partner and you yell “Out!”; but he plays it anyway and hits it back to your un-ready opponents.
    Hindrance or Legit? Had you yelled, “Let it go!” or “Bounce it!” or “NO!”, you would have been fine; but yelling “Out” and having your opponents essentially stop playing makes it a Hindrance.

Your thoughts on these or other situations?

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10 thoughts on “Hindrance or Legit?

  1. Those of us who play league play can site numerous occasions when this question comes up. Almost always….we just let it go and don’t challenge or assert the rule (for which for most of us is pretty vague in our mind)

    Had a situation a couple of years ago when playing in an important League playoff match, my doubles opponent popped up a sitter at net as I was right at the net about to hit the overhead sitter he spoke “loudly” in self complaining about the sitter he left for me (you can put your verbiage in)….it was nearly simultaneous with my overhead that I ended up some how dumping in the net. I called a hindrance and stuck to my grounds and eventually ended up taking the point.

    It was pointed out to me post match by the other team, that the rule declares that I must call the hindrance BEFORE I go ahead and miss the shot. While…I guess that is the rule…where in my mind the hindrance and my missed shot occurred nearly simultaneously making that impossible to correctly call.

    That is my one and only time I have actually CALLED a hindrance in League play, while over the years there are many times when I think I have to some degree been hindered. The drama around the issue for most of us makes it very unlikely I will call another in the future !

    I am sure many of you have your own stories…

    Dave, i am with you … if the verbally hindrance comes just as you are trying to put away the sitter, in my mind, it is still a hindrance. thanks, george

  2. Return of serve…confirmed w an official that my non returning partner can actually be in the service box, not just right on the edge.

    In our case ,non returner had one foot on each side of centerline…did not make any other move to distract server…

    Kirk, i do not believe he is allowed to stand inside YOUR service box. YOU can (i had that done against me in a tournament match). thanks, george

  3. Hey George,

    I called a hindrance on myself at Newk’s this year. Our opponents hit what I thought was a winner down the line. I called out great shot, but the shot hit the let cord which left a sitter for me where I won the point. I immediately asked our opponents if my call hindered them and one of them said that it did. I then called sorry, and said “your point” . In my opinion, clearly right to call on myself. I am a talker on the court so I have to watch myself, but would not intentionally hinder and would not argue if called.

    Dave, i think you could be correct, assuming that your talking distracted the opponents. In any case, a good call to make on yourself. thanks, george

  4. George, the easier part here is explaining how the rules are supposed to fit in different situations. The more difficult part is applying them in an actual match setting. Then it becomes confusing and, I think, reasonable minds may differ.

    For example, on your “jumping at the net” example: Must the net man stand there totally flatfooted like a marble statue and not budge at all until right after the serve gets hit? Somehow that seems a bit ridiculous, if not overly rigid (pun intended). We are ambulatory creatures. We don’t stand absolutely still anywhere – even at church or synagogue. So, can the net man sway back and forth a little bit with his feet to establish some rhythm just before the serve is struck? I don’t see why not; after all, this is pretty much what the Bryan brothers do all the time. If so, how much sway before the serve is hit would be “no it is not a hindrance” versus “yes it is a hindrance.” I defy anybody to give a reliable usable answer. It just cannot be done. It is like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous description of pornography: “I shall not today attempt further to define [it] . . . but I know it when I see it . . . .” (MARTY, SEE WILLY’S COMMENT ABOVE AND MY REPLY)

    To a similar conclusion is your “rockin’ and rollin’” example. How much pre serve or pre return movement is a hindrance and how much is not? We all claim to know it when we see it, but that is about all we might agree on I think.

    It is therefore for these reasons that, when playing a match, I try hard just to ignore what goes on across the net in a doubles match and I try not to let it ANYTHING the opposing team does bother me. If the opponents want to move around before the serve is hit, I say fine, let them do that. I’ll just move around on my side of the net as well. All’s fair and all of that.

    Often I think tennis players are just big babies. They want everything to be perfect when they are playing a match. In so doing, they let too many things bother them while playing. Do you think Aaron Judge cares if somebody shouts out an obscenity at him in Fenway just before he is about to swing for the back wall and the Yankees will beat Boston in the bottom of the ninth? No way.

    I also disagree with you in your example that saying the word “out” to your partner to warn him about where a ball is going to bounce is a hindrance while using other words like “Bounce it” or “No” is not. To begin, if this truly was a hindrance situation, what makes you think an opposing player would be less distracted if the word that you use is “No” versus “Out.” Your distinction does not compute. Further, in the example that you gave, the partner who shouts “Out” is in fact obviously overruled by his partner, who plays the ball as good and then hits it back to the opponents. In that situation, it should be obvious to the opponents that there is at least some disagreement on the opposing team as to whether the ball was good or not but since one of the players did strike the ball and continue the play that should be their cue to continue play themselves. No rational player would or should be hindered by anything in that situation. (MARTY, MY COMMENT WAS CONFIRMED BY A USTA OFFICIAL)

    – Marty

  5. Ok, so it was confirmed by a USTA official. Was all of my comment confirmed, or just the don’t use the word “out” part?

    Anyway, my point is to inject some common sense here, not to dispute official USTA policy. Remember I am a lawyer and I have been doing that for a very long time. Just as I am convinced from a lifetime of having to deal with a never ending progression of too many rules and laws regulating every little detail of our lives in the real world, it has long been my contention there are too many rules on the tennis court as well. All we REALLY need are two things: (1) A little more common sense, and (2) a little more courtesy. We don’t really need ever more detailed and specific rules to cover every little situation that may come up in leading our lives, just as we don’t need them to play this game with similarly minded opponents either.

    If you don’t play a shot on the tennis court because you thought my “out” call to warn my partner on the baseline that the ball MAY be going out really meant that it DID go out, when in fact it did not, the obviously common sensical and courteous thing for me to do is to suggest we replay the point and for you to accept my offer (and for me to remember not to use the word “out” the next time). In so doing, I would be acknowledging that you possibly could have been confused, to your detriment, by the particular word that I used (although it is equally possible that you are just complaining because you perceive an advantage over me and you knew full well the ball was in all along). But you would also be acknowledging that the mere fact my brain was working at the speed of an electrical synapse while I was encountering oxygen deprivation while running at top speed on the tennis court caused me to unfortunately blurt out the word “out” instead of a less confusing “bounce it” or just plain “no” was not so egregious a sin that you should be entitled to take a point away from my team. I mean, it is not as if it was deliberate, was it? So why should your team get the point awarded to you because of the particular word that I used? Does it make any sense at all to call it a hindrance instead of what it really is, just an unfortunate choice of a word uttered in the heat of battle? (Not need to answer; I am speaking rhetorically.)

    Again, I go back to my earlier point: Too many tennis players are like big babies. The major reason we have all of these detailed rules and do’s and don’t’s in all kinds of minutely detailed situations is because there are too many of us who take the game, and ourselves, way too seriously. It is a sport, for heaven’s sake. It is not war. It is not life or death. We are supposed to treat opponents with respect. We are supposed to be gentlemen. We are supposed to give opponents the benefit of doubt. We are supposed to be courteous. We are supposed to use common sense. If we were to do all of that a little more, we wouldn’t need to be debating much if any of this stuff I think.

    Marty, the ruling was just on using the word OUT. But i do agree with you about rules vs friendly play. I am out on the court to #1 get exercise and #2 to have fun. When it stops being that, i am not happy. I am perfectly ok with less rules … except on those rare occasions when you are playing a gamesman/cheater! george

  6. Regardless of the “letter of the law” (USTA official), I strongly agree with Marty. On one of the points – if a high hard drive is approaching and a partner yells “out”, the ball clearly has not yet hit the ground and until then could not legitimately be called “out”.

    Dag, how about a low ball near the line? thanks, george

  7. Subject: Re: Hindrance or Legit?

    With regard to the out call and hindrance. That’s a bunch of BS. It may be the rule, but the ball is always called out well before the ball hits the court. It is simply a warning to your partner that you believe the ball will be out and they should not play it. Many experienced players use the bounce it call to indicate I think it’s out but not sure. No is simply ambiguous.
    I can see this coming into the game with some inexperienced players who know the rule, but not with real tennis players.
    Real players don’t stop playing until the ball has bounced twice.

    Rick Parker

  8. In the rule, out call should be immediate after ball bounce…. I have been told by a referee at section that “out” is not a hindrance when the ball is not close to land. Any word can be used for partner communication, as long as it is obvious not a line call. To reduce confusion for opponent, it is encouraged to use “bounce”, “leave it”, or “watch” rather than “out” or “no” for communication.

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